Southern Evacuation Lifeline
The Conservation League has been fighting for years to stop a road across the Waccamaw River that would open western Horry and Georgetown Counties to sprawling development, destroying some of the region’s most pristine areas and impacting the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, the Waccamaw River, historic Bucksport, and Winyah Bay.
The proposed road across the Waccamaw has been dubbed the Southern Evacuation Lifeline, “SELL.” The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) completed the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2008 but then ran out of money to complete the final EIS. The “preferred alternative” extends from Highway 17 bypass, across the Waccamaw River through western Horry County connecting with South Carolina Highway 22. Citizens balked at SELL’s Hwy 17 terminus, and politicians promised that it would terminate west at 707 and Hwy 31.
SELL would be a 28-mile, 4-lane interstate-standard road with huge interstate-standard interchanges and significant land use impacts. SELL will induce sprawl in western Horry and Georgetown Counties and increase traffic on the already crowded Highway 17 and throughout the Grand Strand and Waccamaw Neck. The new highway will impact the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge, forever alter traditional Gullah communities of Bucksport and Burgess, and spur the loss of rural farmland. Horry County residents have repeatedly spoken out against large scale development in rural and farming communities, gentrification, flooding concerns, and traffic congestion. When the 5-mile International Drive was paved, Horry County saw an explosion of growth along Highway 90. Can you imagine how SELL at 28-miles would prompt similar, if not more expansive growth and infrastructure strain? Traffic and development would be amplified at every off ramp that could include: Hwy 17, Hwy 707, Hwy 701, Hwy 378, and Hwy 501.
The road would also impact hundreds of acres of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, wetlands, streams, and the Waccamaw River itself. These impacts could exacerbate existing flooding challenges faced by communities along the highway’s path. In addition, the area has successfully evacuated utilizing lane reversals in recent years. Modern forecasting has made it possible to evacuate well in advance. Our communities do, however, have issues with ingress and egress to their homes in the aftermath of hurricanes due to riverine flooding. A new 28-mile interstate won’t fix this! We need to promote improving existing infrastructure first and foremost to provide for resiliency against a changing climate with more frequent and severe weather events.
The latest cost estimate puts the entire project at $2.5 billion. Even a fraction of that cost could be utilized to upgrade existing roadways that should be improved to increase resilience.
Recently, legislators agreed to put $5 million aside to revitalize the permitting and engineering process. The Conservation League opposes the Southern Evacuation Lifeline and continues to work to stop this ill-conceived road.